By: Dan Hickey
Bird watching is most joyful in winter, when my northern garden is covered with snow. I watch the chickadees and finches flit about the snow-capped feeders, their playful antics, crisp colors, and wistful songs reminding me of my garden's rebirth still months away.
It's like giving someone unlimited front-row tickets to nature's matinee.
These days, bird feeders come in a dazzling variety of shapes and sizes. Many designs are based upon careful research so attract birds with spectacular efficiency. More than ever, anyone can quickly learn the basics of bird feeding and choose a feeder that will lure a wide variety of birds throughout the winter months.
Choosing a Feeder
There are five types of bird feeders: hopper, platform, tube, nectar, and suet. Variations of each type number in the hundreds. Many species of birds will visit hopper and platform feeders filled with seed mixes. Tube feeders are designed for finches, but will attract other kinds of birds, especially if a bottom tray is attached. Woodpeckers are attracted to suet feeders.
Find out from your dealer which birds visit your region and then determine which of those birds you're interested in watching. Choose a feeder accordingly. Success is as simple as providing the food they prefer in the manner they like it.
Buying a Feeder
Before buying a feeder, decide how many feeding stations you want, and where you'll place them. A feeding station is a single feeder, or a group of feeders in one location. Be practical at first. Check out seed prices and decide if you have the time and energy to fill several feeders weekly.
Several of the feeders shown on the following pages are available exclusively at franchise stores, but you can find many of the same feeders or very similar models at garden centers or wherever bird-feeding supplies are sold. Generally, name brands don't always mean better quality. Some feeders cost hundreds of dollars, but you can get excellent feeders for less than $15.
When shopping for a feeder, consider the quality of its materials and construction, its ease of filling and cleaning, and how much seed it can handle. Try to imagine the feeder after a heavy rain or snow. Are the seeds soaked? Is the seed tray filled with water? The best feeders include covers and built-in drainage systems.
Look for feeders with guarantees against any kind of damage, including squirrel damage. Several companies are offering these incredible 2- or 3-year unlimited warranties.
Where to Place Feeders
The location of your feeding station is important in two respects: Birds need the cover of trees or shrubs nearby to feel safe and welcome, and the feeder should be close enough to your window or porch so that you can enjoy their theatrics.